Imagine a country with a multitude of precious – yet fragile – cultural resources declining to join 180 other countries in an agreement to protect them.
Well, you don’t have to. For despite its wealth of intangible heritages – not least in the Outer Hebrides – the UK government has yet to ratify the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage. This means Scotland cannot be a party to the treaty or add any examples of living heritage to the UNESCO list.
However, Historic Environment Scotland is addressing the issue in the islands at the grassroots level next week with workshops to spark discussions about how existing Scottish practices may fit within a global context.
Explaining the background to the upcoming workshops in Lewis and Harris, Iain Craig of Historic Environment Scotland said: “Through the workshop, we hope to share insights into different examples of living heritage around the globe and some of the history that has led to safeguarding that heritage. We hope to then facilitate conversations with participants about their own experiences and think about some of the challenges of working with living heritage.”
The workshops are designed to be starting points for an ongoing conversation and to gauge what is happening locally on the grounds, the issues that are faced and how these could be collectively addressed in the future.
The primary objective is to bring people together to discuss good practices and the challenges island communities face in preserving their intangible heritages.
The secondary goal is how the global issue of safeguarding intangible heritages can be addressed from a Scottish perspective.
Says Iain Craig: “There is an abundance of intangible cultural heritage examples that Scotland has to offer. Each has value and a history that tells us something about who we are.
“As a national body, it’s important that we highlight the significance of this living heritage. Whether it’s traditional skills and processes, stories, songs and poetry, we are keen to help support others in the work that they do and to advocate for that work.”
Historic Environment Scotland has an Intangible Cultural Heritage strategy in place, but along with their partner, the University of the West of Scotland, they are keen to hear how it impacts at the grassroots. And to do this, they are engaging with people at the sharp end of protecting intangible heritage to identify and support best practices to devise a safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage framework.
Local communities like those in the Outer Hebrides are taking the lead, but bodies such as Historic Environment Scotland need to assist the process through research and conversations.
The three workshops planned in Lewis and Harris will therefore play an important role in helping to identify the key issues, jointly create useful guidelines and frameworks, and help Historic Environment Scotland advocate for the work of local communities.
However, many tangible benefits can be obtained by keeping intangible heritage alive and kicking in the 21st Century.
Comments Iain Craig: “There is clear and significant potential for Intangible Cultural Heritage to support sustainable tourism and sustainable development more broadly.
“At the moment, we have been working with Social Enterprise Academy, who have facilitated conversations around cultural tourism with friends from Ireland. It’s been fascinating to discuss the issues that they’ve seen and how they have approached things when it comes to cultural tourism, especially in the Gaeltacht.
“We are also involved in the next Cultural Tourism Strategy with Visit Scotland and Creative Scotland. We are very keen to highlight the unique cultural offer that Scotland has, but to always focus on doing so in a sustainable manner.”
The first of the workshops is in the Seallam! Visitor Centre on Thursday, June 1, from 10.30 am to 2.30 pm.
On Friday, June 2, the workshop will run at Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn Business Centre from 10 am to 2 pm.
The final workshop is on Saturday, June 3, from 10.30 am to 2.30 pm in Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean, Stornoway.
The events are run by Historic Environment Scotland in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland and funded by The British Academy Early Career Researcher Network.
Historic Environment Scotland adds that they strongly value working collaboratively with the people that know the issues best, those living and working in communities.
“Our ambition is to be helpful and try to support that work in a co-created manner, helping with areas of research and support to try to find an approach that helps our unique challenges and opportunities,” adds Iain Craig.